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Texas Killer Was Able to Buy Guns Because of Air Force Lapse

Devin Kelley was found guilty of assaulting his wife and fracturing his step-son's skull

The Air Force acknowledged Monday that it had failed to enter Devin Patrick Kelley's domestic violence conviction into a national database that would have prevented him from buying the Ruger AR-556 rifle he used to kill 26 people in a small Texas church.

Kelley was found guilty by a court-martial of assaulting his wife and fracturing his infant stepson's skull in 2012, but that information was not forwarded to a national database used for background checks of would-be gun purchasers, according to Ann Stefanek, an Air Force spokeswoman.

Federal gun regulations prohibit anyone with even a misdemeanor domestic violence conviction from purchasing a gun. The law, known as the Lautenberg Amendment, was enacted by Congress in 1996.

“Initial information indicates that Kelley's domestic violence offense was not entered into the National Criminal Information Center database by the Holloman Air Force Base Office of Special Investigations,” Stefanek said in a statement.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott told “CBS This Morning” on Monday that the law should have blocked Kelley from obtaining the rifle. He tried to get a permit from the state of Texas to carry a gun but was denied, Abbott said.

“And so under the current system of federal law he should have (been) prevented from being able to make this purchase,” Abbott said. ”How that got through the cracks, I don’t have that information.”

Authorities say Kelley bought four guns, two in Texas and two in Colorado, beginning in 2014. He purchased the Ruger AR-556, a variant of the popular AR-15 that was later found at the church, from an Academy Sports and Outdoors store in San Antonio. CNN reported that when he filled out the paperwork for a background check, he checked the box indicating that he did not have a disqualifying criminal history.

Academy Sports and Outdoors said in a statement that “based on information we received from law enforcement, we confirmed that the suspect purchased a firearm from one of our San Antonio locations in 2016.”

The company did not specify what kind of gun and said it was cooperating with the investigation.

In addition, two handguns, a Glock 9-mm handgun, and a Ruger .22 caliber handgun, were found in his car, according to Fred Milanowski the special agent in charge of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives field office in Houston.

Kelley sprayed the church in Sutherland Springs with gunfire around 11:20 a.m. on Sunday, then walked inside while he continued to shoot. Eight of those who died were children.

When Kelley was confronted, he fled and was later found dead. An autopsy showed that he had been shot three times, twice by citizens and once in way that appeared to be self-inflicted, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety.

Investigators say he might have been targeting his mother-in-law, who attended the church and who had received threatening texts from him. She was not in the church Sunday morning.

Kelley was convicted of two assault charges under Article 128 of the Uniformed Code of Military Justice. He was confined in a military prison, the Naval Consolidated Brig Miramar in California, for a year, reduced in rank and given a bad conduct discharge in 2014. He was not dishonorably discharged from the military, which also would have prevented him from buying a gun, Gardiner said.

Under Pentagon rules, information about convictions of military personnel for crimes such as assault must be submitted to the FBI's Criminal Justice Investigation Services Division, The Associated Press noted.

The inspector generals of the Air Force and the Defense Department have been directed to conduct a complete review of the Kelley case and relevant policies and procedures, Stefanek said. 

"The service will also conduct a comprehensive review of Air Force databases to ensure records in other cases have been reported correctly," she said in a statement.

In Texas, a convicted felon who is ineligible to buy a gun can still go to a gun show or online and buy a gun from a private seller without being subject to a background check, said Avery Gardiner, the co-president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. Some states have tightened state requirements for background checks but Texas is not one of them, she said.

One in five guns is sold in the United States without a background check, she said.

“It’s still illegal for somebody to purchase if they’re a prohibited purchaser but since there is no background check that is done between a private seller and somebody it’s very hard for anybody to detect that,” she said.

Everytown for Gun Safety, an organization to prevent gun violence, said that the Department of Defense had sent many records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System of people who had received dishonorable discharges. The group does not know if the Texas shooter had a record showing he was disqualified from possessing a firearm, said spokeswoman Phoebe Kilgour.

After the shooting, President Donald Trump said from Tokyo that the mass shooting was not “a guns situation” but  “a mental health problem at the highest level.”

Asked about gun control measures, he said "mental health is your problem here" and he called Kelley a  “very deranged individual” with “a lot of problems over a long period of time.”

Gardiner responded that the shooting of 26 people was indeed a gun problem. Americans do not have higher rates of mental illness that other countries, she said. 

"The difference between America and other countries is easy access to guns for people we all agree shouldn’t have them," she said.

In February, Trump rolled back an Obama administration regulation that made it harder for some people with mental illnesses to buy a gun. Disability groups and the American Civil Liberties Union opposed the rule.

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